Friday, May 26, 2017
Ramadan: Controversy in Pakistan over increased penalties for fast-breakers
Critics say a bill currently before Pakistan's Parliament to increase fines for eating and drinking in public during Ramadan, alongside jail terms of up to three months, is evidence of increasing intolerance in the country.
With temperatures on the eve of Ramadan in much of Pakistan 40 degrees or above, opponents of the hiked penalties for public eating or drinking in daylight hours have warned the vulnerable will suffer.
"People are going to die from heatstroke and dehydration, this is a ridiculous law..." tweeted Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari, the daughter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, adding "this is not Islam".
Citing a need to more effectively preserve the sanctity of Ramadan, the religious affairs committee of Pakistan's Senate unanimously approved ten-fold increases in the maximum fines for fast-breakers, alongside prison terms of up to three months.
The committee's chairman, Maulana Hafiz Hamdullah, told the ABC some cinemas had even been screening movies, which he said was unacceptable.
"Any kind of violation of Ramadan, be it in hotels, cinemas or any other public place, this will have negative impact," he said.
The fines are not massive — $A10 to $A300 for individuals, up to about $A650 for businesses.
But that was not the point, opponents argued.
Tahira Abdullah, a noted Pakistani rights activist, said the plan went against "the spirit of Islam as I know it".
She believed the targets were religious minorities.
"When you close down all restaurants and hotels and access to food and water and drinks during the month of Ramadan, what about non-Muslims?" she asked.